The term ‘tribunal’, not being a term of art, referred to any dispute-resolution body or process, from the regular courts of law, through domestic bodies regulating clubs, societies and professions, to ministers making decisions in the course of their administrative duties.
– Chantal Stebbings
The Tribunals were formed to reduce the work load of the Courts, which provides with a expedite judgements by the lawyers and experts in the fields of the jurisdiction of the Tribunal. The 72nd Constitution Amendment Act of 1976, provided with the insertion of Articles 323A and 323B for the establishment of Administrative Tribunals, since Access to justice in our Constitution is placed on a higher pedestal of fundamental rights. Access to Justice is synonymous with Access to Courts. It is inbuilt under Article 14 of the Constitution which guarantees equality before law and equal protection of laws. Where the Article 323A gives power to the Parliament to constitute Tribunals for the respective subjects, while Article 323B give power to the State Legislature, but it is concurrent in nature, where the parliament also can make laws for the subjects in Article 323B. Due to the progressive and fastened growth of Government activities in commercial, social and other fields, it is of utmost important for a person having knowledge in specialised fields for effective and speedy justice. After the consideration by various committee reports, such as Justice Rankin Committee- 1924, Administrative Reforms Commission- 1966, Wanchoo Committee- 1970, The High Courts’ Arrears Committee- 1972, 58th Law Commission- 1974, Swaran Singh Committee- 1967 etc. various Tribunals were established to provide with speedy justice, since the Right to Fair and Speedy Trail is very much a part of right to life and personal liberty, a fundamental right guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India and therefore, any kind of delay in the expeditious disposal of cases infringes the same.
The principal test of a term ‘Tribunal’ was put forth in the case of Jaswant Sugar Mills Ltd., Meerut v. Lakshmichand, it was vested with the trappings of a Court, such as having the authority to determine matters, authority to compel the attendance of witnesses, the duty to follow the essential rules of evidence and the power to impose sanctions. Most of these Tribunals/authorities are a kind of ‘Court’ performing functions which are of ‘judicial’ as well as ‘quasi-judicial’ nature having the trappings of a Court. It has many trappings of the court to ensure justice and fair play; and it has many flexibilities devoid of technicalities of regular court to ensure speedy and affordable justice.
But in the case of Associated Cement Co. Ltd. v. P.N. Sharma it was held by the Supreme Court that “the basic and fundamental feature that is common to both the Courts and the Tribunals is that they discharge judicial functions and exercise judicial powers which inherently vest in a sovereign State”. Where the court also held in Bharat Bank Ltd., Delhi v. Employees of the Bharat Bank Ltd., Delhi that the Tribunal is the creature of Statute and observes the provisions of special Act and when it is vested with the functions of the Court or necessary trappings of the Court.
While differentiating the Tribunal from Courts, the Court in Kihoto Hollohon v. Sri Zachilhu which upheld the decision in Harinagar Sugar Mills Ltd. v. Shyam Sunder Jhunjhunwal held that: ‘All Tribunals are not courts, though all Courts are Tribunals. The word ‘Courts’ is used to designate those Tribunals which are set up in an organised State for the Administration of Justice. By Administration of justice is meant the exercise of judicial power of the State to maintain and uphold rights and to punish ‘wrongs’. Whenever there is an infringement of a right or an injury, the Courts are there to restore the vinculum juris, which is disturbed.’
Also, in the case of Virindar Kumar Satyawadi v. The State of Punjab the court observed that: ‘What distinguishes a Court from a quasi-judicial Tribunal isthat it is charged with a duty to decide disputes in a judicial manner and declare the rights of parties in a definitive judgment. To decide in a judicial manner involves that the parties are entitled as a matter of right to be heard in support of their claim and to adduce evidence in proof of it. And it also imports an obligation on the part of the authority to decide the matter on a consideration of the evidence adduced and in accordance with law. When a question therefore arises as to whether an authority created by an Act is a Court as distinguished from a quasi-judicial Tribunal, what has to be decided is whether having regard to the provisions of the Act it possesses all the attributes of a Court.’ Furthermore, in a latest judgment of State of Gujarat v. Gujarat Revenue Tribunal Bar Association the Court observed that: ‘…..a particular Act/set of Rules will determine whether the functions of a particular Tribunal are akin to those of the courts, which provide for the basic administration of justice. Where there is a lis between two contesting parties and a statutory authority is required to decide such dispute between them, such an authority may be called as a quasi-judicial authority, i.e., a situation where,
- a statutory authority is empowered under a statute to do any act
- the order of such authority would adversely affect the subject and
- although there is no lis or two contending parties, and the contest is between the authority and the subject and
- the statutory authority is required to act judicially under the statute, the decision of the said authority is a quasi-judicial decision.
An authority may be described as a quasi-judicial authority when it possesses certain attributes or trappings of a ‘court’, but not all. In case certain powers under C.P.C. or Cr.P.C. have been conferred upon an authority, but it has not been entrusted with the judicial powers of the State, it cannot be held to be a court.’
Tribunals have been established with the object of discharging quasi-judicial duties by acting judicially which differentiates them from other administrative bodies. A Tribunal is neither a Court nor an executive body, but they have an obligation to act judicially. Tribunals are endowed with the judicial functions as distinguished from purely administrative or executive functions. As in S.P. Sampath Kumar v. Union of India, the court held that the Tribunals are not an end in themselves but a means to an end; even if the laudable objectives of speedy justice, uniformity of approach, predictability of decisions and specialist justice are to be achieved, the framework of the Tribunals intended to be set up, to attain them must retain the basic judicial character so as to inspire public confidence. L Chandra Kumar v. Union of India, the court while deciding the Constitutional validity of the Article 323A (2)(d), 323B(3)(d) and the Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985, where it was questioned, ‘whether the Tribunals constituted under Part XIV- A of the Constitution of India can be effective substitutes of the High Courts vis-à-vis the power of judicial review?’ for which the Court answered that “A Tribunal created under a Statute is not empowered to examine the Constitutional validity of a law under which it is created because this function is entrusted to the High Courts and the Supreme Court.”
The Supreme Court, through its appellate jurisdiction under Article 136 supervises the functioning of administrative bodies, and can impose discipline over these bodies for the progress of Administrative Law and promotion of the Rule of Law in India. The Supreme Court concluded that the Tribunals can neither be alternative nor substitutes of the High Courts. A person manning the Tribunal cannot claim parity or privileges at par with the High Court judges.
Thus, the judicial functions discharged by the Tribunals can be distinguished from purely administrative or executive functions in view of the doctrine of ‘separation of powers’ which forms part of the basic structure of the Constitution.
Edited by Pushpamrita Roy
Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje
 Stebbings, Chantal, Legal Foundations of Tribunals in Nineteenth Century England, Cambridge University Press, New York, 1 st edn., 2006
 AIR 1963 SC 677.
 AIR 1965 SC 1595.
 AIR 1950 SC 188.
 AIR 1993 SC 412.
 AIR 1961 SC 1669.
 AIR 1956 SC 153.
 (2012) 10 SCC 353.
 Bharat Bank Ltd., Delhi v. Employees of the Bharat Bank Ltd., Delhi, AIR 1950 SC 188.
 AIR 1987 SC 386.
 AIR 1997 SC 1125.
 Kagzi, M.C.J, The Indian Administrative Law, Metropolitan Book Co. Pvt. Ltd., Delhi, 3 rd edn., 1973